This couldn’t have been what NBC had in mind.
It certainly wasn’t what the Arizona Rattlers had in mind.
The Rattlers were looking to redeem themselves after getting blown out by the San Jose SaberCats in last year’s ArenaBowl.
Instead, they lost starting quarterback Sherdrick Bonner on Sunday midway through their disappointing season opener and lost the game to the SaberCats, 49-28, in a ragged debut on network television at America West Arena.
“This game was the worst ever, the worst game I’ve seen from an Arizona Rattlers team, worse than the ArenaBowl,” coach Danny White said. “There were a lot of guys that didn’t show up today.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Bonner, who suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his right shoulder four plays before the end of the first half, is supposed to be out two to four weeks. He said he expects it to be more like 10 days.
“It’s my right shoulder,” the veteran lefty said. “I don’t need it that much.”
Even before Bonner went out, however, Arizona's offense struggled. Bonner did not have a completion in the first quarter, unheard of in the pass-happy AFL.
At one point early in the second quarter, Bonner and San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb — last year’s AFL offensive player of the year — were a combined 3-for-20 in a 7-7 game. It wasn’t what the 15,372 fans at America West Arena were expecting, nor could it have been what NBC had wanted.
“I thought to myself, ‘Boy, fans are not seeing Arena football at its best, and it’s a shame,’ ” White said.
But it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise since the league disposed of two preseason games to extend the regular season. The only practice the Rattlers had besides intrasquad work was a low-key controlled scrimmage against Colorado.
“Preseason games do help you find that timing,” said Rattlers offensive specialist Chris Horn, who had four catches and a touchdown while dropping another diving TD reception. “You can practice and scrimmage all you want, but there is only one game tempo.”
White said Bonner was clearly out of sync. Backup Chris Hixson hit Maurice Bryant on a 35-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half. He struggled much of the time, however, as San Jose kept up a serious pass rush.
The Bryant touchdown tied the game at 21, but the SaberCats scored the next 21 points in a row to make it a blowout. Grieb completed just 10-of-27 passes, but four of the completions went for touchdowns.
It was the San Jose defense — which Bonner called “unorthodox” — that dominated the game, though. The Rattlers did not convert any of their seven third-down chances. White called out Bryant in particular for blowing his route reads, and the Rattlers twice were offside on onside kick attempts. The Rattlers also had 11 penalties.
“We played like it was a preseason game,” White said.
White said he expected to make some changes on the line. He also said the team was on the phone immediately after the game searching for someone to replace Bonner on the roster.
The sting wasn’t the same as when the Rattlers lost, 52-14, in the championship game. But there will have to be major improvement for Arizona to even consider making another run at a title.
“The difference between this one and losing one at the end of the year is that you get to look at it immediately and fix it seven days later, and that’s the approach we’re going to take,” Horn said. “Losing is never a fun thing. And this wasn’t the start we wanted in front of the home fans. “But I guarantee you, we’re going to get better.”
EXTRA POINTS: The Rattlers placed former Arizona State running back Tom Pace on injured reserve before the game with a strained right hamstring.
It was the third straight season the Rattlers lost the season opener to San Jose.